As parents, we want to give our children happiness and contentment. Sometimes, though, it's hard to know how to do that. We hate to deny them things they want and profess will make them happy. But time and time again, generations of parents have learned that simply giving children all the material possessions they want doesn't make them happy or content. Oftentimes, it has the opposite effect. How is it that sometimes the more we give them, the less grateful they seem?
Teaching our children to be grateful is one of the greatest gifts we can give them; gratefulness allows us to find happiness and contentment no matter what we have or what our circumstances are.
Here are some of the tips I've learned so far to teach kids to be grateful:
(1) Be a good example of a gratefulness.
It is important that we model the traits we want our children to learn, and gratefulness is no exception. Make it a habit to vocally thank those you love, as well as everyone else who comes across your path and helps out, even in small things. That includes your children! Ideally we do this from when they are infants, but it's never too late to start showing gratitude. I previously posted some ideas for showing gratitude to the people in your life: http://www.vingle.net/posts/591212-7-Ways-to-Show-Gratitude-to-Your-Loved-One
(2) Have your children write thank you notes.
Teach your children early on to write thank you notes to people who give them presents, attend their birthdays or do other nice things for them. You can make it fun! There are all kinds of cute thank you notecards out there at party supply stores, Target, Walmart or stationary stores. I like to keep an eye out at Target for clearance thank you card sets that are almost always around. Party supply places and dollars stores almost always have character-themes notes, as well. Even toddlers aren't too small to join in. I've written the cards while reading the message out loud to my son, or asked him what he wanted to say. Then I give him stickers, stamps or crayons to make his mark on the note. It's okay if they mark over your writing or make it look a little bit messy - that makes it more individual and special!
(3) Have your child list the things s/he is grateful for that day at bedtime.
We do this in prayer, but you can choose how you want to frame it. Let them choose what to say, even if it seems silly. It's a nice time to listen to what they remember from that day and learn more about what makes them happy. You can prompt them, of course, if they seem stumped. It's not a bad idea to do it yourself, too! I keep it simple and just say it out loud, but another fun option is to find a fun blank book (or have them decorate a plain one) and make it into a gratitude journal where they can write down or have you write down what they are grateful for that day.
(4) Do things for others.
One of the best ways to keep yourself and your kids from becoming overly self-involved - a sure recipe for unhappiness and discontentment - is to put your attention on the needs of others. With older kids, you can find ways to volunteer together. You can find lists of opportunities at churches, libraries, city offices and websites like Habitat for Humanity or other volunteer search services. I recently came across VolunteerMatch.org, but I haven't tried it out yet. There are things out there from feeding the homeless to building houses to reading to the elderly or helping out at animal shelters. If you have or if you know of another great resource for volunteering, please share in the comments!
Some people who are part of religious communities also like to use some of their vacation time to do mission trips abroad with their older kids. Don't forget, people don't need to be in dangerous areas to need help. There are plenty of people who need our attention all around us.
Don't give up if your kids are too little to go volunteering. You can have them help you pick out toys, food or supplies at the store to give in toy and food drives - or have them pick up toys and some clothes they don't use anymore to donate to others who can use them.
(5) Tell your children you are grateful for them.
Make sure you tell your kids that you appreciate them and act in a way that makes them believe it. That means saying thank you for things they do to contribute to your family life and kind things they do throughout their lives, but also expressing your appreciation for them just being themselves, no strings attached. We can gain inner strength and the energy to appreciate others when we don't feel like our only value is in what we accomplish or do. A big part of what makes us kind, grateful, happy, giving members of society is knowing our own value and feeling the impulse to help others see their value, too. That awareness can also help us get through the tough times that life will inevitably bring and through the mistakes that we all make.
Being grateful involves recognizing worth - what is truly meaningful and what we should treasure in ourselves, each other and our lives.